National Geographic Magazine/Volume 31/Number 6/Our State Flowers/The Magnolia
Our State Flowers
The Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora L.)
When Louisiana's legislature and Mississippi's school children awarded the magnolia the high praise of rating it first among the flowers of their respective States and declaring that it best typifies their ideals and expresses their aspirations, they selected a floral emblem widely known and universally admired, not less for its exquisite beauty than for its delightful fragrance. The Chinese regard the magnolia as symbolical of candor and beauty, and whoever has known the sweetness of its perfume and the charm of its blossom can appreciate the tribute.
There are many kinds of magnolias, each with its own peculiar attractions. But queen of them all is the grandiflora, which has borrowed all the beauties of the laurel and the rhododendron. It has a straight trunk, two feet in diameter, which often rises to a height of 70 feet. It is an evergreen, with leaves not unlike those of the laurel, glossy green on top, rusty brown beneath, and oval-oblong in shape. It bears a profusion of large, creamy white, lemon-scented flowers. As these latter reach their final stages before the petals fall, they turn a pale apricot hue. When fruiting time comes it is a cone of dangling scarlet seeds that we see.
There are numerous other varieties indigenous to America, among them the glauca, a beautiful evergreen species found in low situations near the sea, from Massachusetts to Louisiana. Another is the “cucumber tree,” well known for its small fruits resembling cucumbers. Its range is from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas, mostly in the mountains. Its wood is much prized by farmers for making hay ladders, bowls, and other implements and utensils where a hard, non-warping material is needed. Still another species is the umbrella tree. The tulip tree, also a member of the family, is of American origin.
The Chinese have a species of magnolia which gives them a medicine for healing and a flavor for improving the gustatory qualities of boiled rice. It is said that India has a species that surpasses all others in size, having a trunk which sometimes attains a girth of 12 feet and reaches a height of 150 feet. Western Europe has gathered species from China, Japan, India, and America, and although all of them are imported, they seldom reach the magnificence in their native habitat that they attain under the careful attentions of the landscape gardeners in the climes of their adoption.
The beetle is the special insect patron of the magnolia. Abundant pollen and nectar in profusion suit it so well that instead of making a fleeting visit to a flower it shelters itself in the soft petals and stays and stays until dispossessed by the fading of the blossom. Then only does it go to another field to pasture; but as it goes it carries liberal quantities of pollen grains with which to reward its new host for the food and drink and shelter it seeks and secures.